Dementia is an overall term which describes symptoms associated with a deterioration in memory and other cognitive skills which are severe enough to have a detrimental effect on a person’s ability to live their every day lives independently.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for around 60 to 80% of all dementia patients with Vascular dementia, often a side effect of Stroke, is the second most common type.
Often wrongly referred to as “senility”, dementia has been considered by many to be a natural part of ageing, new evidence suggests that this is not the case however, and there has been a vast amount of research over the last few years in an attempt to find preventative treatments for the condition.
Because there are so many different kinds of dementia, symptoms can vary massively however, impairment in at least two of the following core functions must be present to make a firm diagnosis:
- Communication and Language
- Focus and Attention Span
- Reasoning and Judgement
- Visual Perception
Many people mistakenly believe that memory loss alone can be indicative of someone suffering dementia, this is not the case however, and there are many causes of memory loss in the over 65’s particularly some of which can be reversed.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells which makes it impossible for cells to communicate with each other, affecting normal cognitive behaviour. The brain is made up of lots of distinct regions, with each one being responsible for different functions which means that damage to any particular region will affect its functionality. Different forms of dementia are generally associated with specific types of brain cell damage in specific regions of the brain and most symptoms will increase in severity over time.
Diagnosis of dementia is notoriously difficult as there is no single test that can be given. Instead, doctors have to use a series of physical examinations, lab tests, character and behavioural assessment and look into the patient’s medical history before confirming dementia. Confirming the exact type however is even more difficult because they can develop and overlap meaning that some doctors will specify that a patient has dementia without naming a specific type.
If you are worried about a loved one, there are a number of support groups available and Dementia UK can provide you with further information.